JENNIFER ANISTON WAS TRYING TO HAVE A QUIET WEEKEND AWAY.
It was just after her 50th birthday, and she’d boarded a plane for Mexico with six of her best girlfriends – most of whom have known her since her early days in Los Angeles, before Brad, before Justin, before Friends and before the tabloids, when they lived as neighbours on the same street in Laurel Canyon. (‘We called ourselves the Hill People,’ she said.) But a few minutes in, the pilot asked to speak with her. They had a tyre missing, and they would have to return to Los Angeles.
As the pilot burned off fuel, Aniston spent the next four hours cracking jokes and trying to remain calm (she is terrified of flying), while fielding text messages from friends who’d read about the ‘emergency landing’ – which hadn’t actually happened yet.
The women landed safely, switched planes and, the next night, gathered for a ritual they’ve been doing for thee decades: a goddess circle. Seated on cushions, crosslegged on the living-room floor, they passed around a beechwood talking stick decorated with feathers and charms, much as they had done for every major event of their lives. They had circled before Aniston’s weddings to Brad Pitt and Justin Theroux. They circled when babies were born, and when Aniston and Theroux had to put down their dog, Dolly. This time they set the circle’s intention: to celebrate how far they’ve come – and to toast Aniston’s next chapter.
‘It’s so weird. There’s so much doom around that number,’ Aniston said of 50, noting that the New Yorker in her (she spent most of her childhood on the Upper West Side) was slightly horrified at the thought of the term ‘goddess circle’ appearing in a story about her. ‘Should we just call it a “circle”?’ she asked.
We were sitting in the kitchen of her sunny, mid-century Bel Air home, on a Tuesday afternoon in late August. She was warm and radiant, which is how glossy magazines often describe her, and also thoughtful, inquisitive and self-deprecating, which is not.
She asked about the meaning of my tattoo, which led to a conversation about my dog, which led her to ask Siri, ‘Hey Siri, what does a cockapoo look like?’ (‘I’m like a weird dog person, it turns out, like a dog lady,’ she said, running her hand through her dog Clyde’s fresh haircut.) She is surprisingly unguarded for someone about whom the tiniest kernel of news can transform into a thousand stories.
A NEW CHAPTER
But about that age thing: ‘I’m entering into what I feel is one of the most creatively fulfilling periods of my life,’ she said. ‘Seriously,’ she continued, pausing to knock on her wooden coffee table. ‘I’ve been doing this for 30 years and I feel like it’s just about to really bloom.’
This is the kind of thing actors say all the time in interviews. But in this case, it seemed like more than a platitude.
Since Friends ended, Aniston has had critical success in smaller independent films, mixed reviews for mainstream movies, a lot of product endorsements, a couple of outright flops. But nothing has clicked quite like Rachel Green, the beloved runaway bride she played on Friends. She’s spent 15 years taking parts that had the potential to get her past that iconic role, that haircut, that ‘cloak of Rachel’, as she once put it – but they didn’t deliver. Perhaps the only way to do that may be to return to the medium that made her famous.
And now she has had a homecoming of sorts as the star of Apple’s The Morning Show – a big-budget drama set behind the scenes of a news show that looks a whole lot like Today. Aniston plays Alex Levy, a serious morning anchor whose personal life is complicated and professional life is more so, compounded by the sudden firing of her longtime co-host (played by Steve Carell) for sexual misconduct.
For Apple, the show represents the shiniest bauble in its launch slate as it attempts to challenge the likes of Netflix with a streaming service of its own – and among the first shows to hang its premise on #MeToo.
For Aniston, who is the spine of the show as both a lead and an executive producer, it’s the chance to dig into a more sophisticated dramatic role that, as she put it, has everything: ‘children, guilt, power struggle, being a woman in the industry, going through a divorce, publicly going through a divorce, feeling alienated, being just a little bit of a screw-up.’
It’s a role that is asking her to draw on more of her personal life than ever before. And it may also be her best chance to finally get the world to see her as an actor, not just a star.
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